Cedric Griffin did not have a very good year in 2011. Coming off his second major knee injury in two years, the cornerback looked painfully slow and at times was completely overmatched. Things got so bad for Cedric that late in the season Leslie Frazier outright benched him. Despite a pair of decent performances in the team’s final two games, it seemed Cedric was destined to be cut. Besides clearing a spot in the secondary for a younger player with healthy legs, cutting Griffin would save the team almost $6 million in salary for 2012.
But not so fast. Is it possible the Vikings could keep Cedric Griffin after all? Leslie Frazier’s Friday remarks certainly seemed to open the door on Cedric returning in 2012.
“He was coming off a major knee surgery a year ago, and sometimes guys need a year under their belt before they can really get back to [production] they had before,” Frazier said during his Friday combine presser. “It remains to be seen if he’s one of those guys.” Frazier added, “I think he’s in the right frame of mind. We’ve just got to get him to where he’s 100 percent healthy and confident about the things he’s capable of doing.”
Those remarks seem like a major reversal from the stuff Frazier was saying late in the year after he sat Griffin down. In the wake of several glaringly dismal performances, Frazier talked candidly about his frustration over Griffin’s play, in particular his inability to execute the defensive fundamentals that should’ve long since become second nature to the veteran. It seemed to many observers then that Griffin had checked out mentally as well as physically, and Griffin himself openly expressed his belief that he would soon be a former Viking.
Now it appears Cedric is still in the mix despite his struggles. Even if the Vikings do decide they want to keep him, there’s no way they’ll do so at his current numbers. Griffin is owed $1.125 million in bonuses and $4.1 million in salary for 2012 under his current contract. That will have to come down. Way down.
How much Griffin should be paid depends on what role the Vikings would want him to fill. There are several possibilities there. He could be brought back as a starting corner, but that seems like a long-shot after the way he struggled in 2011. There’s some thought he could be moved to safety, but though his lack of mobility would be less of a liability there, it would still be a liability. Don’t the Vikings want to get faster across their whole defense, especially at safety where lack of recovery speed was a major issue last season? The third possibility seems the most likely: keeping Cedric as a fourth corner/special teams player. He still has value at this point in his career, but in my mind that value is only as a back-up.
It’s pretty obvious what Frazier is trying to do with Cedric. If he had his druthers, Frazier would move on from Griffin entirely and get younger and faster in his secondary. But he has a problem, and that problem is called Chris Cook. As I write this Cook is still in legal limbo. Frazier was asked about the troubled cornerback yesterday and made a very telling remark. He said, “We really have to operate as if he’s not a Minnesota Viking as we prepare for this draft.” In other words, the Vikings have to make sure they’re covered in the event Cook can’t return. The best way to cover themselves might be retaining Griffin, a player who at least has experience in the system, even if he can’t play at the same level he once did. Keeping Cedric would buy the Vikings time to get a younger cornerback, maybe Brandon Burton, maybe someone new they draft, ready to go.
As I said before, if the Vikings do wish to keep Cedric, they will first have to approach him about a restructure. If Cedric refuses to re-negotiate his deal, then he will probably be cut anyway, and the Vikes will have to find another solution to their cornerback dilemma. Dipping into free agency could provide a quick fix. Brandon Carr, who may be odd-man-out in Kansas City after the Stanford Routt signing, is one man on many fans’ radar screens. The Vikings will almost certainly target a cornerback in the first few rounds of the draft as well. In-house options are few and not very appealing. Asher Allen? I’ve seen that movie and I really have no desire to see it again.